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Vietnam court reduces bloggers' sentences, but defence rights violated at appeal hearing

On 16 August 2013, an appeal court in the southern province of Long An reduced blogger Dinh Nguyen Kha's sentence from eight to four years in prison, and reduced fellow blogger Nguyen Phuong Uyen's sentence from six years in prison to a suspended sentence of three years in prison. Both sentences still include three years of house arrest.

The original sentences were passed on the two young bloggers in May. The 16 August 2013 hearing was marked by a flagrant violation of defence rights, as none of the lawyers representing the bloggers was allowed into the courtroom.

"Although it means Nguyen Phuong Uyen's release from prison, we deeply regret the appeal court's decision as it maintains imprisonment as a means of harassing news providers," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Even when suspended, a prison sentence is an unacceptable and disproportionate response for what Uyen is supposed to have done. The authorities must put an immediate end to the persecution of outspoken dissidents and the harassment of bloggers such as Dinh Nguyen Kha and his brother."

Kha's brother, Dinh Nhat Uy, was himself arrested on 15 June. Shortly before his arrest, he told Reporters Without Borders that the authorities were stepping up pressure on the family in an attempt to force Kha to admit his "errors."

At the end of the 16 August session, Uyen's mother applied for her daughter to be allowed to return home.

Denial of defence rights

On the eve of the 16 August hearing, the three lawyers representing Kha and Uyen - Ha Huy Son, Nguyen Thanh Luong and Nguyen Van Mieng - were notified by the court that they would not be allowed to defend the two bloggers, who ended up defending themselves. No family members were allowed into the courtroom either.

Uyen told the court: "I do not need a sentence reduction; I just need the judge to convict the right persons of the right crimes. I believe that criticizing Vietnam's communists is not the same as opposing the people or the nation. They should not be treated as the same thing."

Strict controls prevented relatives and supporters of the two bloggers from demonstrating outside the court. Instead they marched through nearby streets with signs saying "Free Uyen and Kha" and "My child is innocent." The march ended when police grabbed the signs.

Vietnam is ranked 172nd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

You too can demand the release of the bloggers detained in Vietnam by signing this Reporters Without Borders petition.

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